Deepak Chopra and Intent

An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: Is there a religious reason to vote for or against Obama or McCain?
There never will be, and never should be, a religious reason to pick one candidate over another. God hasn’t personally voted in an American election, but he keeps voting by proxy. In an ideal world that would never happen. Supernatural beings aren’t citizens. Omniscient deities don’t make choices (since they already know every outcome in advance). To anyone who holds a serious regard for the Constitution, voting your faith should be a private matter, not a public one. It wouldn’t make me happy to know that a Catholic friend voted for someone solely because he was a Catholic, or that a Jewish friend voted for someone solely because he took a hawkish stand pro Israel, but that’s their right. No public discussion is required.
Yet we have to be realistic. God is going to vote by proxy this year. The real question is where his massive voting bloc is heading, now that the Republican Party has been so thoroughly discredited. Can we hope that religious voting will return to being a private matter? In the past, various noxious movements that were anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic made grabs for political leverage, only to sink back into the miasma. Is something like that about to happen now?
As we all know, part of the right-wing revolution in this country was the consolidation of the religious vote. That, in turn, depended on convincing churchgoers that they should vote their faith in the first place. The very notion of knowing who God backs in the race is laughable, but it became no laughing matter when the schism between red and blue states elevated splinter groups, including hard-line evangelicals, into the driver’s seat. As swing voters, the religious right discovered new and ever more unlikely rationales for seizing power. The basic argument of “God is on our side” was dubious enough, but it was stretched to extreme lengths: God is against Roe v. Wade, God demands that our children pray in school, God condemns homosexuals to hell. It would have been more truthful simply to label themselves as the intolerance faction.
There are some positive trends in this regard, however:
— For every fundamentalist and bigot who believes the smear that Obama is a Muslim, two or three new voters have registered to negate that vote.
— Younger evangelicals have shifted away from hard-line social values, turning toward real-life issues like global warming.
— The reactionary base of the Republican Party is widely seen as behind the times and may be replaced by a new group of policy makers.
— President Bush’s public declarations of faith-based decisions (e.g., God wants him to bring democracy to the Middle East, he doesn’t need to consult his father on foreign policy because he consults a higher father) have been so alarming that previously apathetic citizens paid attention.
— A constant parade of avowedly religious figures abusing their power (Attorney General John Ashcroft) or acting with ridiculous hypocrisy (Sen. Larry Craig, Rep. Mark Foley) has undermined the moral credibility of the religious right.
The general debacle falling on the heads of the right wing will do the most to keep God out of the voting booth. But that will be temporary. As long as we are a divided nation, splinter groups can’t resist the temptation to turn into powerful voting blocs. There’s an urgent need, as Obama recognizes, to heal the fracture lines. The electorate will be healthier if he can undo bitter partisanship, and God can go back to knowing everything but not pulling a lever in the voting booth.
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“Moral hazard” is a phrase more of us know in this era of reckless trading on Wall Street, and now we can apply it to politics. Traders who use other people’s money aren’t exposed to the risk of losing their own money; therefore, they act less responsibly than someone who is fully exposed to the consequences of a risky decision — that’s the moral hazard. In politics, irresponsible behavior happens when there is little or no consequence to be felt, the only difference being that you play with someone else’s life, not merely their money.
The latest example is over gay marriage. The rest of the country is watching to see if a ballot measure in California, Proposition 8, will ban gay marriage in that state. Since June California has legalized same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut. The court decision that paved the way for this change outraged the usual groups. Social conservatives and various religious groups, including a massive influx of money from the Mormon Church in Utah, are campaigning heavily for Prop 8 to pass. One wonders what business it is of theirs. Marriage has its public side, but given the sharp decline in marriage since the Seventies, what precious institution are they protecting?
If the answer is that a sacrament is at stake, these religious groups have no business interjecting their beliefs into public policy. Various religions traditionally ban the eating of pork, shellfish, and meat on Friday, but we don’t allow those strictures to govern policy. As for the condemnation of homosexuality by scripture, many of those same scriptures advocate polygamy. Trying to condemn homosexuality on religious grounds is a ship that has already sailed in every secular society, and the vast bulk of psychological research has already removed homosexual behavior out of the category of pathology.
What gives the anti-gay marriage forces their influence comes down to moral hazard. If you run no risk sticking your nose into someone else’s bedroom, some people are weak enough to go ahead and do it. What gives them permission is a toxic tradition, deeply imbedded in the right wing, of shameless intrusion. McCarthyism, the right to life movement, school prayer, anti-immigration, and a string of other rabble-rousing campaigns have been based on harming other people without risk to yourself. What makes these movements immoral is that the whole situation is upside down. In finance, you are supposed to take extra care of other people’s money, not less, when you are entrusted with it. In a democracy, majority rule is based on respect for minority rights, the basic idea being that a bond of trust allows minorities to feel safe when they are outnumbered.
Popular democracy sorely tests the bond of trust. Therefore, we have certain bodies, such as courts and the Senate, where the tide of popular sentiment can be checked. In California, the system of ballot initiatives for changing the state constitution is pure democracy at work, without restraint of any kind. If half the citizenry favor a change, their whims override all checks and balances. Prop 8 is the latest in a long line of disturbing, misguided initiatives that amount to a roll of the dice. Will the majority decide to stamp on a newly fledged right of a gay minority? The contest is too close to call, but as an outsider who hopes that California voters will say no to Prop 8, they should think seriously about moral hazard and the trap it poses.
What You Can Do:

— Support Deepak Chopra’s Intent about Prop 8

Read Same Sex Marriage: Equality for All by Mallika Chopra

— Make a Donation to Vote No On PROP 8 (Referral Code 527)

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An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: The theme of The Women’s Conference 2008 this week is We Empower. Does religion empower women?
To get at the question of whether religion empowers women, I’d have to ask another question first. Should women aspire to power if such power is compromised to begin with? Sarah Palin was adhering to the norm when she asked God to back her run for office in Alaska. Using God as a political strong arm is religion’s dirty little secret, or maybe the secret has lost its covert quality by now. Without a second blush, millions of believers want God to make them more affluent, successful, and influential. Yet one of the founding purposes of religion was to cancel out worldliness, with very mixed results. In Christianity, for example, the ideal believer is humble, selfless, and forgiving. Add those traits up, and they equal powerlessness. Or rather, Jesus asked for a shift of power away from the worldly, which he considered trifling, to the spiritual, which he considered all-important. A second strain in religion is service, known in Protestantism as the social gospel, which holds that helping the needy wins favor with God. That, too, is hardly a route to secular power.
If they can get past these compromises, women shouldn’t be denied. The higher ups in every faith have a tendency to control the lower downs. For every monk who takes a vow of celibacy, there’s a bishop or cardinal pulling strings in local government (this isn’t a paranoid accusation — much of their participation is public and above board). The gender issue comes down to how many women are given access to the upper echelons of a denomination. The more liberal Protestant sects allow fairly free access while Catholicism gives none at all. It’s not for us outsiders to make judgments one way or the other, since church politics belong to the members.
Of course, empowerment has another meaning — personal empowerment — that religion influences. The results here are decidedly mixed. The tradition of blaming women for original sin through the disobedience of Eve links to another tradition that sees women as vessels of physical temptation. Obviously few modern woman want to be associated with either, but leaving theology aside, a woman may feel empowered through faith, inspiration, or service. The exaltation of mother goddesses around the world has made the role of motherhood sacred (any number of people call their mothers a saint, but not many use that term for their fathers).
Given so many tangled influences, I don’t think you wind up with a box score. It’s dubious whether you could even conclude that religion is more positive than negative, or vice versa. In one area, however — the new spirituality that is growing outside organized religion — there’s no doubt that women not only take the lead but seek empowerment on all levels. They want to feel stronger in themselves and be stronger in the world. Given how subordinate women have been for centuries, and how unabashedly organized churches stood on the side of social repression, I think any road to empowerment for women is a positive development.
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The progressive side of American politics feels done in by the nasty work of Karl Rove, following in the muddy footprints of the late Lee Atwater, a grinning, guitar-strumming master of demagoguery. The effectiveness of slamming Michael Dukakis with the horrifying tale of Willie Horton is now being revived using mug shots of William Ayers. Rove has been retooled as robo calls in a number of swing states, all of it to see if the old black magic will keep working. Instead of erupting in outrage and secretly dreading that a smear campaign will undo Barack Obama’s lead in the polls, I return to the basics.
Why did the Republican smear machine work in the first place? The answer from many on the left is that the American electorate is stupid, malleable, covertly racist, easily frightened, and capable of falling for rich white Republicans who could care less about the common man. Let’s say that all those things are valid (even though most are open to debate). Such factors can’t be quantified, and if asked, many people give ambiguous or misleading answers about their personal beliefs. The second point to make is that Barack Obama owes his rise, in large measure, to overlooking people’s worst instincts and appealing to their better ones.
From the beginning, his campaign has posed a clear-cut choice between the best and worst in human nature. The right-wing revolution went through three stages of moral deterioration.
Stage 1 — Resentment toward blacks, gays, immigrants, liberals, atheists, and the educated class was openly encouraged for political gain. Previously unrespectable, even anti-social beliefs were given entree into electoral debates. This was the Nixon ‘silent majority’ phase.
Stage 2 – Splinter groups that preached intolerance and bigotry were praised for their “values.” This was the Reagan phase, which preached the hollow slogan of “Morning in America” while ignoring AIDS victims — just one symbol of institutional immorality.
Stage 3 – As the right wing gained power, anyone who didn’t agree with their ideology was smeared and labeled as immoral, unpatriotic, extremist, and disloyal. The term ‘liberal’ encapsulated all. of these. This was the high-water mark of the Tom DeLay, Karl Rove phase during the Bush years.
Obama isn’t proposing a return to left-liberal politics so much as a reversal of these three stages of moral decline. His great adversary is apathy. As long as 40% of the electorate votes Republican out of inertia, the demagogues had an easy time getting another 8 – 10% to follow fear, intolerance, and xenophobia, the toxins that all democracies are susceptible to, especially in stressful times. Those wedge voters are probably still in place, even if they feel demoralized by the defrocking of their patron saint, Pres. Bush. Three million dedicated Christian fundamentalists, fired up by fringe issues like flag burning and gay marriage, can only sway a Presidential election if there is severely low voter turnout.
But now the apathetic majority has risen up for the first time since the Reagan revolution, not to vote for Democrats but against an immoral agenda that masked itself in sheep’s clothing. I know many people who are afraid that McCain and the Rove machine can stir up the worst in human nature once again. For me, the right attitude isn’t fear and suspicion but a clear-eyed realization that voters vote for immorality only when they are blind or asleep. Waking up is Obama’s best hope, and although it took an economic calamity to seal McCain’s fate, the electorate seems more awake this year than in a very long time
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